In this day of hyper-ecological awareness, we talk a lot about the evils of leaving an environmental “footprint,” and ways in which we may strive to contain this. Reduce, reuse, recycle; ride your bike to cut down on emissions, turn off your lights to conserve the energy we're producing, and, you know, don't buy a private jet.
Sometimes I get frustrated with this preaching, because it's taken so far. People speak as if they wish they could live without impacting the world around them at all--as if they wish they could live without breathing or eating or defecating or bearing children. I'm temped to ask, if that's what they want, then why don't they just die and thus ensure they will never leave that footprint?
Because as long as we exist, we make an impact. That's the very nature of existence.
And yet it's not only our environmental impact we strive to contain. Some of us have learned to limit our emotional and relational “footprint” as well.
I grew up in a conservative Christian community. I learned that to be polite and self-effacing was a way of being unselfish. That such behavior was valuable because it spoke to our willingness to put others' needs above our own.
I didn't believe we ought to make waves (unless perhaps we could back up those waves with research). I'd seen too many overbearing people making enemies by their obnoxious ranting.
I didn't believe that I had a right to be heard, much less that I had a duty to speak up, to act. I learned to listen and empathize with others, but not to ask them to do the same for me.
I didn't believe that I was worthy to live in a way that could expect to make a direct impact.
That would leave footprints behind me.
But that's who we are as human beings. It's what God calls us to as his children. We are to be living, shining lights; you can't do that if you're hiding yourself, even your needs and longings. We are to be God incarnate; you can't do that if you're busy making yourself invisible around other people. We are to love others; you can't do that if you don't let them love you, and know you.
If any of this strikes a chord with you, I have a challenge for you in this new year: dare to make your emotional footprint bigger.
Stand up. Spread your wings.
Shout, wail, sing, dance, be loud, be close, contaminate the world around you with the beauty and gold dust that you shed. Hug more people. Jump into more conversations. Ask more questions, ones that invite thinking rather than just answering.
You exist. Don't let that fact be swallowed up in the desire to be “selfless.” Be bold, be strong, be yourself--for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.